With more than 100 years of innovation, expertise and industry leadership, the STRATTEC story is an inspired one. Explore our evolving history with the interactive timeline below. Or, to read about STRATTEC’s history in detail, click here.
STRATTEC SECURITY CORPORATION, headquartered in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, is the world's largest producer of automotive locks and keys. Once a division of the Briggs & Stratton Corporation, STRATTEC became an independent company in 1995. While no longer a part of Briggs & Stratton, STRATTEC shares that company's long history and heritage.
Briggs & Stratton began in 1908 as a partnership between Stephen F. Briggs and Harold M. Stratton. Stephen Briggs had recently graduated from South Dakota State College with a degree in electrical engineering and was already an accomplished inventor. Harold Stratton earned a degree in business from the Milwaukee Business College and had become a partner in his uncle's grain trading company. Briggs wanted to start a business to manufacture an engine that he had designed while in college. Stratton was always interested in new investments. Together they ventured into the new field of automobile manufacturing.
Their first project was the development of an innovative six-cylinder, two-cycle automobile engine of Briggs' design. When the initial plan proved too costly, the partners decided to assemble cars from parts manufactured elsewhere. The second venture culminated in an automobile called the Superior. Although the Superior ran well, it too proved unprofitable. But the entrepreneurs still saw opportunities in the young automotive industry and refused to give up. Henry Ford had just introduced the Model T and his innovative method of mass production made automobiles affordable to a huge market of average Americans for the first time. While Stephen Briggs and Harold Stratton's initial business ventures were unsuccessful, they learned from the experience and eventually recognized that their opportunity lay in the market for specialty parts for automobiles. Hoping to profit from this burgeoning market, the partners went back to the drawing board and began selling locks, ignition switches and other electrical specialty parts. Finally, the struggling company had found its niche. After a short period, the partnership was deemed successful enough to incorporate. The Briggs & Stratton Company was incorporated on June 2, 1910 with Stephen Briggs listed as president and Harold Stratton listed as Vice President.
Early on, the company displayed a talent for quickly adapting to changing market conditions. Over the following decades, the company established a long tradition of invention and innovation, investing in many new market opportunities and selling such diverse products as washing machine engines, radios and refrigerators. Eventually Briggs & Stratton established two solid businesses related to their early efforts that continue to this day: automobile locks and small engines.
Development of the Automotive Components Business
In the early twenties, Briggs & Stratton's automotive component product line-up successfully expanded from relatively simple switch devices to include more complex cylinder locks. The newer cylinder locks could be used in various access areas on the automobile. Primarily used to lock the vehicle's doors, they could also secure the car's ignition, transmission, radio and spare tire. At that time it was common for numerous locks to be used on a single car. By the mid-twenties, cylinder locks became the company's number one product.
Since each lock required a separate key, the simple task of getting into a car and starting it up could be overwhelming to the owner. As a solution, Briggs & Stratton offered a system that could be installed on any new car manufactured with its locks. For a 75-cent fee, the owner could streamline his key chain by ordering a master key that could open every lock on the car. Many owners took advantage of this opportunity to streamline their hefty key chain.
The locks produced at Briggs & Stratton at this time were made from machined brass lock cylinders purchased from an outside company. The cylinders were quite expensive and not always readily available, impacting the company's ability to meet market demand. Intrigued with the emergence of zinc die-casting, Stephen Briggs began to investigate the process to produce his own lock cylinders. Later that year, Briggs & Stratton began this innovative method of lock cylinder production. From that point on, zinc die-casting became the preferred construction for automotive locks because of its relatively low cost, durability and the ability to form intricate shapes needed for a lock mechanism. Virtually every car produced in the world utilizes zinc lock cylinders, a fitting testament to Stephen Briggs' foresight.
In the mid-1920's, the company introduced a line of automotive products referred to as "hardware." This product line included door handles, inside door levers, door knobs, ornamental plates and hinged covers for keyholes. Briggs & Stratton promoted these items as "Automobile Body Hardware of Distinctive Character." During this time, they also created an early brand name "Basco" (Briggs & Stratton Company) that was prominently displayed on all products, advertisements and literature.
Focus on Locks and Engines
In 1929, Briggs & Stratton shipped more than 11 million locks to approximately 130 manufacturers, including General Motors, Ford, Chrysler and the Dodge Brothers. This customer base represented about 75% of the automotive industry at that time, and two-thirds of automotive lock production nationwide. In that year, 70% of Briggs & Stratton's business was in the manufacture and sale of locks. By 1930, Briggs & Stratton could lay claim to being the largest manufacturer of automobile locks in the world. As the lock cylinder business grew, electrical specialties and other Basco products became less important and were eventually phased out completely.
Briggs & Stratton was also building a variety of small engines at this time, derived from a motor wheel product purchased by the company in 1919. Briggs & Stratton engines were used in a variety of products, generators, pumps, lawn mowers and garden cultivating equipment, but washing machines were the most popular use for Briggs & Stratton engines in the 1930's. By the time World War II broke out, the company's sales were split evenly between small engines and automotive locks.
The World in Transition
As with the rest of the world, things were never the same at Briggs & Stratton after World War II. Auto manufacturing declined precipitously during the war due to the conversion of most of the country's manufacturing base towards support of the war effort. Nearly all of Briggs' production capacity for automobile related products was temporarily converted to production of bomb fuses, magnetos for aircraft engines, ignition switches for airplanes and switches for electrically triggered aircraft guns. Engine production was maintained at Briggs, but most of the output went to the various military branches for generators, pumps, compressors, ventilating fans and other miscellaneous applications.
Engines Take Over, but Locks Keep Rolling Along
By the late 1940s, Briggs & Stratton was one of the largest manufacturers of small gasoline engines for home and farm equipment. After World War II, it set out to capture an increased share of the growing market for lawn and garden equipment brought on by the post-war boom. It ultimately achieved this goal, with the Briggs & Stratton name becoming almost synonymous with "lawn mower."
Although engines became Briggs & Stratton's core business following World War II, that didn't stop the Automotive Division, as the lock business began to be called, from making important advancements in the design of automotive locks. Leading auto lock engineering during this post-war period was Vice President, Edward Jacobi. Jacobi was a very prolific and ingenious inventor/engineer and was personally responsible for over 225 patents granted to Briggs & Stratton over his 53-year career, many of which were related to the lock business. Due to his standing in the industry, he became known as "Mr. Lock" throughout the auto industry, further enhancing the company's reputation for invention and innovation.
Two of Jacobi's more significant patented inventions related to locks were developed in the 1940's. The first was the unit shutter, used to protect the inner workings of exterior mounted locks from contamination. The shutter, which significantly reduces the amount of water, dirt and other air or road-borne contaminants from impairing the function of the lock, has been copied over the years by almost every lock manufacturer around the world. A second significant invention during this period was the side-bar lock. This development greatly increased the pick resistance of a lock, and thus increased the vehicle's security protection. This design was initially used exclusively by the General Motors Corporation in the 1950's, but was later adopted by American Motors and Ford Motor Company.
While Briggs & Stratton continued to supply locks and keys to the automotive industry, most of its resources were put into the growth of the engine side of the business. A series of all aluminum engines introduced in the mid-1950's became the industry standard for lawn and garden equipment, and the engine side of the business took off.
Service and Aftermarket
In the early 1900's, as the automobile became more popular across the United States, the need for servicing grew. Out of necessity, owners performed most of their own repair work. But many owners were unable to deal with problems related to carburetors and magnetos. They needed help from people with expertise in these components.
In an attempt to meet this need, a number of automotive manufacturers helped establish independent service centers to handle the repair of carburetors and magnetos. As the industry grew, a large number of these organizations developed across the United States. In the mid-twenties, Briggs & Stratton selected a group of these service centers to form the Basco Distributors and Central Service Network. Their mission was to support Basco automotive products in the field with parts and service. As the Briggs' engine product line grew, it was only natural that the company would utilize this automotive-oriented network for the repair of Briggs & Stratton engines, and the distribution of engine service parts.
To complement auto lock service and sales, Briggs & Stratton developed a variety of accessories. Several key-cutting tools were developed for service centers and distributors, as well as key depth decoders, key code books, coding tools and various specialized tools for servicing the locks. In the late thirties, the company introduced the Universal Automotive Key Cutting Machine, a device developed to accurately cut keys for locks made not only by Briggs & Stratton, but other lock companies as well.
The automotive orientation of the service network served the company throughout the 1930's, 1940's and into the 1950's. During this period, the auto manufacturers shifted their support from independent service centers to the establishment of service departments within their own franchised dealers. Briggs continued to use its service network to provide replacement parts for its automotive product line and, as the years went on, it relied on distributor or service organizations that maintained an active automotive orientation. The company also continued to provide products to the OEM service parts operations and their automotive dealer networks.
STRATTEC SECURITY CORPORATION
In 1987, the Briggs & Stratton automotive division was renamed the Technologies Division. While still retaining its worldwide leadership of automotive lock production, locks and keys only represented about 7% of overall revenues and sales for the Corporation. On February 27, 1995, Briggs & Stratton spun off the Technologies Division into a separate company named STRATTEC SECURITY CORPORATION.
Since the spin-off, STRATTEC has maintained its status as a dominant player in the North American market for automotive security products, and preserved relationships with key industry customers such as General Motors, Ford Motor Company, Fiat Chrysler Automobiles, Honda, Tesla, Aston Martin and Harley Davidson. While STRATTEC continues to maintain strong working relationships with current customers, efforts are being made to pursue new business opportunities with foreign-owned North American manufacturers and other global partners.
STRATTEC Goes Global
On November 28, 2000, STRATTEC signed an alliance agreement with WITTE-Velbert in Germany to both expand their product offering and their distribution channels in the global market. In November, 2001, a joint venture was formed between WITTE-STRATTEC LLC and IFER Estamparia e Ferramentaria Ltda and became WITTE-STRATTEC de Brazil to service customers in South America. On March 1, 2002, WITTE-STRATTEC China was formed, a joint venture between WITTE-STRATTEC LLC and a unit of Elitech Technology Co. LTD of Taiwan. WITTE-STRATTEC China, located in Fuzhou, People's Republic of China, is the base of operations to service the company's automotive customers in the Asian market. A WITTE-STRATTEC facility in Shanghai was opened in 2004 to further serve the growing China market. On July 1, 2006, ADAC Plastics Inc. (dba ADAC Automotive) Grand Rapids, MI. joins the WITTE STRATTEC LLC alliance which is renamed Vehicle Access Systems Technology LLC (VAST LLC). Then on August 2007 VAST LLC establishes sales office in Tokyo, Japan. On November 30, 2008, STRATTEC, WiTTE Automotive and VAST purchased the global Delphi Power Products business. VAST LLC establishes a sales and engineering office in Seoul Korea. On November 18, 2009, VAST LLC purchases the remaining 40% ownership of the two Chinese entities located in Shanghai and Fuzhou, China. Today, the VAST Automotive Group is a thriving global entity. By working through VAST, STRATTEC customers have benefited from an expanded, global, automotive footprint through the creation of a family of complimentary products, shared expertise a joint investment in operations in the US, Mexico, China, India, Brazil, Japan and Korea. Together we generate nearly $2 billion in sales to a broad and well-known customer base of global automotive OEMs.
While a young company under its current name, STRATTEC brings a long tradition of innovation, adaptation and customer service into the future. Independence offers STRATTEC the ability to pursue new opportunities in the automotive arena through strategic partnerships, expanding product lines and the development of system-based solutions for our OEM customers.
Over the past several years, vehicle access systems have been evolving from purely mechanical components that have been the industry standard for decades to the integrated electro-mechanical systems that are becoming more and more prevalent. STRATTEC has been at the forefront working with OEM product development, engineering and purchasing groups to address the challenges facing our customers. STRATTEC is driving toward the future with a strong vision and a willingness to embrace the latest processes and technologies to achieve creative, high-quality and cost-effective solutions for our OEM business partners and their ultimate customer, the consumer.